“Free Guy”

I’m honestly not sure what I was expecting from this movie. Something akin to Ready Player One, I suppose, if a bit less hitting-you-over-the-head with the pop culture references. And, sure, in places it has some of that—the big fight towards the end definitely does that, but it also leans in with the reactions. (An excellent use of Chris Evans!)

In general, while watching the movie, I enjoyed it. There’s some fun playing with tropes, and I really do like the concept—Mogworld gone mainstream!1 And I can set aside the bits of “that’s not actually how technology works” as being something of a Plumber Problem.2 Really? This Silicon Valley tech company has all their servers in a ground-floor room of their main office? Yes, definitely, for sure, that’s an efficient way to use horrifyingly-expensive San Francisco real estate. And all the players in Europe definitely love the super-laggy gameplay experience that creates.

But, again, that’s stuff that I, as a big ol’ tech nerd, notice, and the average viewer probably doesn’t know about. It moved the plot forward, and it wasn’t egregious, so why not; I’ve already suspended my disbelief about the core plot elements, so why not this too?

Where it fell down for me, though, was the end. Spoilers ahead!

Because, all told, the end seems to wrap up very nicely. The twist on the whole “the guy gets the girl” trope was nice, and answered a question I’d had floating around for a while, which I enjoyed. But if you think about it at all, there’s just… no exploration of the consequences of anything. Somebody invented general AI and… nobody cares? We’re just leaving them in a video game, and the positive change in their lives is that instead of a torture chamber it’s a People Zoo?

Oh, and let’s look at ‘torture chamber,’ too—because that’s what the video game they were living in was. A nightmare world where everyone is constantly in danger, generally dying every day and being reset the next morning, and for who knows how long, they were all being gaslit into thinking that was Fine and Normal. It may have been an accident, but the creators of this game up and created a slave race for their entertainment. That’s the kind of thing that the UN generally likes to do a bit of investigation of.

And, speaking of investigations, there’s no investigation of Antwan? The world seems to have, at least somewhat, accepted the concept that Guy, if none of the other NPCs, is a fully-sentient AI. Antwan just… gets away with trying to kill him? Sure, his stock price tanks, and he looks like an idiot on the news, but generally attempting murder in front of dozens of witnesses has slightly more of an impact on your lifestyle. Never mind the fact that he didn’t just attempt murder, he followed it up by attempting genocide against the aforementioned slave race.

Beyond all that, there’s the fact that this entire new population of artificial intelligences were born in that kind of a crucible. Trying to create an AI that doesn’t accidentally wipe us out is difficult enough; in this world, we created an army of them and they spent their childhoods as our torture-slaves. Given the rate at which they’re learning… well, Guy’s little “leveling up faster than anyone thought possible” montage sure looks more terrifying when you remember that they have no reason to like us and they know we’re a threat to their survival. If they make a sequel to this movie, it’s going to be about getting Guy a virtual girlfriend, because Hollywood is predictable like that. Joke’s on them, though, because we already have the sequel: Terminator.

  1. This is an Amazon affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I prefer Bookshop affiliate links to Amazon when possible, but in this case, the book wasn’t available there, so it’ll have to do.
  2. A phrase coined, I believe, by John Siracusa. A plumber watching a movie will notice “that’s now how plumbing works!” a lot more readily than anyone else.

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